Because it is quite an important subject I thought I’d come back to editing and layout. Now, I’m repeatedly told that my grasp of grammar is wildly imperfect and I can’t disagree with that. My approach has been likened to writing a page of prose, filling a scatter-gun with punctuation and letting the poor words have it at close range. Again, not going to argue since the only qualification in English Language I have is my GCSE grade (and I’m not telling what that was). Now, many will advise you to pay out for a professional editor but I understand the pinch. Editors aren’t cheap, nor should they be however, most of us know someone with a better command of such subjects than our own. As I mentioned previously an Alpha Reader ought to be someone you know and whose opinion you trust and, just for a benefit, knows grammar better than you do (spelling isn’t so much of an issue what with spell checker functions and all). If you don’t think you know such a person then I can recommend ‘My Grammar and I’ by Taggart and Wines or, ‘Eats, Shoots and Leaves’ by Lynne Truss. Either of these books can guide you through correct punctuation.
Also look out for ‘passive voice’. It’s just as it sounds and readers don’t want fiction to be ‘passive’, they want to be engaged, they want a sense of urgency. The easiest way to combat is to write as if it’s all happening right then, right there because, for the reader, it is. Even a flashback should be treated like a current event, the first run through. It’s qualified as ‘Subject’ + ‘Verb+to be’ + ‘Past Participle’. There are plenty of articles explaining it better and most of the examples I’ve found come across as really clunky but the root of it it, in passive voice something it done to the subject, in active voice the subject does something. It’s worth reading up on it.
Editing aside let’s review layout. If you’ve written your manuscript the traditional way it will be double-spaced to help with editing but don’t leave it like that when you transfer it for layout. For a start it’s unnecessary, all it does is expand your page-count and your costs. One of the first things you’ll want to do is set a page size. Look over your chosen publishers range, choose one that you’re happy with, personally I publish at 7″x 4 1/4″ but it’s quite a pricey option. I see a lot of 8″x 5″ these days at shows and it’s one I might consider if E-Rail runs much over 100k words. Once you’ve chosen page size set your margins (because Word won’t alter them) you want a mirrored setting because your outer page margin will be about 1.3cm and the inner (or spine) margin sets at 1.5cm to allow for binding. Top and bottom margins usually set at 1.3cm too.
Headers and Footers are of use. A footer for your page number, starting on the first page of the actual story, not the first page in the book, is a basic requirement (though I haven’t yet discovered how to mirror those, mine are always in the lower right corner much to my embarrassment) and some publishers use the header for the book title on one page and the authors name on the other. Once I discover the secrets to this sorcery I’ll let you know.
As I’ve covered before the initial page structure I’ve found most commonly is;
- Writer Bio, facing side of the first page.
- Blank or ‘Also by:’ on the rear of that page.
- Title Page (including Authors name and publisher – facing)
- Legalese – published by, statement of copyrite and ISBN (rear)
- Forward (if you’re indulging in one – facing)
- Title Page (title only – facing)
With that arranged you can import your manuscript and get it laid out. First note, tabbing. Every time you hit return you’ll want to tab in. Most word processor programs set a default tab of about an inch but you won’t want that much. Reset tabs to a half inch at most. Hit return when a new character starts speaking, A new scene comes up for description, when it feels right to do so. You, like me, have read many books I’m sure. You’ll pick up the queue’s of when to hit ‘return’ in your manuscript. But, unlike most other documents, don’t drop a line after a paragraph. Only add a break after a change of scene or a passage of time.
All Chapters (should you use them) should start on a facing page (an odd numbered page). At point’s you might find you have a blank side, an only partly-filled side or, horror of horrors, a partly blank facing page with an entirely blank rear page before a new chapter. There are two ways to deal with this. In the case that you only have a couple of lines (or worse a couple of words) on a single look back and try to condense. Get the page entirely blank, if it’s a rear facing page that’s fine, if it’s a facing page you’ll be able to cut it entirely. If you have more than five or so lines and you don’t thing you can condense then fill out. Maybe there’s something you can expand earlier on in the chapter that will help fill the void and, maybe, bring a bit more colour to the scene.
Finally a few words on Font. Font is pretty crucial to how your story is received because it plays a major role in how easy your story is to read. Most books are published in Times New Roman 12. TNR is a serif font but it’s not the most extreme example out there. That becomes important if you want an inclusive, neuro-diverse audience, especially when it comes to individuals on the dyslexia spectrum. I would advise against Serif fonts like Courier, Garamond or TNR and urge Sans Serif fonts like Helvetica (sometimes listed as Calibri). This makes your work easier to access. Never use a cursive font, I can’t stress that enough, no handwriting or ‘fantasy’ fonts. You’re not writing for Tolkien’s elves and, while it might be ‘in keeping’ for your setting it’s really just a ball-ache to read and very exclusionary for those with poor eyesight or, as mentioned above, fall on the dyslexic spectrum (as well as some other neuro-diversities).
The whole goal of editing and layout is to make your work accessible to your audience. A well laid out book is just easier to read and more satisfying because it’s familiar. Much as many of us want to ‘break the mold’ and stand out from the pack that is something you do via the content of your work, not the way you lay it out (Unless you’re Mark Danielewski writing ‘House of Leaves’, admittedly, few of us are).